Karla Way-McPhail, who runs mining labour and equipment companies, will not say whether she will recuse herself from Carmichael decision
A director of the independent board due to provide recommendations regarding a $900m taxpayer loan to Adani publicly declared she was “very supportive” of its “vital” coal project, a day after she was accused of allowing a perceived conflict of interest to develop.
Karla Way-McPhail, who runs mining labour and equipment hire companies, last week told a central Queensland newspaper that Adani’s Carmichael mine project would be “a huge boost” for the region.
“We’re very supportive and have been in the industry over 20 years and think it’s vital to the economic platform of central Queensland and we think we really need to see the Galilee [basin] opened,” she told the Morning Bulletin in Rockhampton in a story published last Friday.
Way-McPhail sits on the independent board of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (Naif), which will make investment recommendations, including whether to grant the loan to Adani.
She is the chief executive of the coalmine labour and machinery supplier Undamine Industries, which says on its website it is well-placed to work with miners in the Galilee. The Adani proposal would open up the Galilee for development.
“Our Central Queensland base allows us to effectively serve areas such as the Galilee Basin and beyond,” it says.
Final approval for a Naif loan rests with the minister for Northern Australia, Matthew Canavan, and Naif has said its board members are aware of their conflict-of-interest obligations. It is unclear whether Way-McPhail plans to recuse herself from any decisions.
The Morning Bulletin article did not refer to Way-McPhail’s $56,150-a-year role on the board.
A day before the article appeared, Environmental Justice Australia had written to Naif raising questions about Way-McPhail’s alleged conflict of interest as the chief executive of Undamine and Coal Train Australia, a mining training company.
“There is a perception that Ms Way-McPhail could gain an advantage if either project were to proceed,” EJA said.
Asked by Guardian Australia if her public support for the Adani mine compromised perceptions of her independence, Way-McPhail said: “Due to confidentiality and privacy obligations I am unable to make comment or respond.”
A Naif official did not answer EJA questions about whether Way-McPhail had received any internal information about the Adani proposal, whether she had been present for board discussions or had been included in other correspondence about them. The same was true for questions about Aurizon, which has also approached Naif with a loan proposal to support the construction of a rail line to open up thermal coalmining in the Galilee basin.
Adani’s proposed $900m Naif loan is to build a line connecting its Abbot Point coal port, near Bowen, to its Carmichael mine, hundreds of kilometres inland. The terms of both proposed loans are unknown.
Naif would not say whether Way-McPhail planned to recuse herself from any decision on Adani or Aurizon.
EJA also raised questions around Annabelle Chaplain, who sits on the board of the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (Efic), which advises Naif. Chaplain also sits on the board of and owns shares in Downer EDI, which has provisional contracts worth up to $2bn with Adani, including to build its mine.
John Hopkins, the Efic board secretary, told EJA in response that no Efic directors to date had “any need to recuse themselves from discussions at the Efic Board concerning the Naif”.
This was because the Efic Board was “not required to have, nor does it have, any actual knowledge of the projects that NAIF is considering”, Hopkins said.
Efic was a “service provider” to Naif and “not the decision maker” on “specific transactions” made by the Naif board.
Efic also said its directors were aware of their conflict-of-interest obligations.
A spokeswoman for Canavan said Naif’s conflict-of-interest policy required directors to “declare their interests and recuse themselves from discussions if there is a conflict of interest”.
“There is no suggestion the NAIF has not properly adhered to these requirements,” she said.
On Monday the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, said the conflict-of-interest allegations would be investigated.
“If there’s a claim that there’s a conflict of interest and the conflict of interest is against the law, then of course we’re going to check that out.”
The Queensland government has ruled out acting as a “middleman” for Naif by distributing funds to Adani, after it promised at the last election not to give taxpayer support to the project.
EJA has suggested the commonwealth may not be able to legally lend directly to Adani but the state treasurer, Curtis Pitt, said his government would not stand in the way of the loan.
By Joshua Robertson
This piece was published by Guardian Australia on 31 May 2017